“Adam Strand isn't depressed. He's just bored. Disaffected. So he kills himself—39 times. No matter the method, Adam can't seem to stay dead; he wakes after each suicide alive and physically unharmed, more determined to succeed and undeterred by others' concerns. But when his self-contained, self-absorbed path is diverted, Adam is struck by the reality that life is an ever-expanding web of impact and forged connections, and that nothing—not even death—can sever those bonds.
In stark, arresting prose, Gregory Galloway finds hope and understanding in the blackest humor.”
I’d like to thank the Cuddlebuggery Book Blog for supplying The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand ARC through their Little Blogger, Big Ambitions project.
Every book ever written, I want to love. I want it to be a gem, a euphoric experience. And when a book shows potential, only to fall on its face, tripping over needless scenes, unbelievable reactions… Well there are few things as saddening. When I finished The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand, I wasn’t sad because of an emotional story, I was sad because there could have been an emotional story.
The core concept, committing suicide, only to come back completely unharmed, I love. It opens up a lot of interesting possibilities for a character. But when you have a concept as unbelievable as this, you really have to sell it. That’s probably where Galloway missed the mark the most.
Apparently everyone knows about Adam, how he keeps coming back after he dies. They’re cool with it though, I mean, nothing scary about a person who keeps living after blowing their brains out. You see that every day! And it’s not like Adam may need some medical treatment for compulsive suicides. That’s definitely healthy in a sixteen year old.
If you can’t read through my subtle sarcasm, I struggled with the character’s reactions to Adam. Since Adams don’t exist, I don’t know what the proper reaction would be, but if current attitudes are an indication, whether it’s sexual orientation, race, or a physical disfigurement, people don’t like those that are different. When there were strong reactions, they felt fake, insubstantial, like a movie set. Even his parents’ reactions seemed muted. I can only assume that having your son commit suicide only to come back repeatedly, would have serious ramifications on your psyche. Later on, this is partially explained, and combined with Adam’s self-centeredness, I could probably let it go, if it didn’t make me scream so much at the beginning.
Everything at the beginning made me scream. Between the characters and less than fantastic writing, I struggled tooth and nail through the first hundred, hundred twenty pages. Having to fight through that much of a book is unacceptable in my eyes. In all fairness, it did get easier after that, whether I got used to the writing, Adam’s self-centered POV, accepted the semi-casual treatment of Adam, or some combination of them. Or maybe something else entirely! But having to fight through the first third of a book is inexcusable.
Even after the period of fighting, I still felt like I was wading through the story instead of being pulled along. There weren’t any characters I cared about, many scenes could have been cut completely from the story, just nothing I was invested in. In my opinion, the plot did the one thing Adam couldn’t, flatlined.
I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book with so many scenes that made me go, “Huh?” For example, about halfway through the book, Adam is in a basement with Violet Courtland, an effectively crazy classmate of his. We have no prior knowledge of her, Adam doesn’t have any sort of relationship with her before this, and they end up having sex. In my mind, I’m thinking this is probably an important plot point, it will cause problems with Adam’s friends, and then nothing really happens besides one heated conversation. What was the point of the scene? You brought in a whole new character to do what? This is only one of several different times the book glosses over or throws in an unneeded scene. Some can possibly be explained by Galloway trying to highlight Adam’s character, and his self-centeredness, again, but others are just clumsy plotting.
The book isn’t all bad execution. There are moments that show the potential here, and some very funny lines, which may be a tad too vulgar for here. The interactions between Adam and his “friends” can be quite entertaining in their honesty, as they sit by the river drinking cheap liquor. These moments are few and far between though, sandwiched together between excessive, clumsy writing, and rip-your-hair-out moments.
To top it all off, there’s perhaps one of the most unsatisfying endings I’ve ever read. While it may have fit in with the tone of the book, I was left wanting more closure. Doesn’t help that the preceding story arc ended just ten or so pages earlier, with a blinding case of deus ex machina.
Whether because of incompetence or inexperience, Gregory Galloway took what could have been fantastic in more able hands, and wrote what feels like a first draft. His intent is clear, and the message does come through, but it wasn’t entertaining. I’m excited to see what else Galloway writes because he’s shown potential here, but he hasn’t come into being yet.